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Monday, July 30, 2012

Patricia Briggs: ALPHA & OMEGA SERIES

Author:  Patricia Briggs 
Series:  ALPHA & OMEGA
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF) with Soul Mate Protagonists
Novels and Novellas:  
     "Alpha and Omega" in On the Prowl (2007)
     "Alpha and Omega" (e-novella, 2009)
      Cry Wolf (1/2008)
      Hunting Ground (8/2009)    
      Fair Game (1/2013)
      Dead Heat (3/2015)

Graphic Novels:
      Cry Wolf: Volume 1 (10/2012)
      Cry Wolf: Volume 2 (5/2013)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 4/2/15 to include a review of Dead Heat, the fourth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the series world-building, brief summaries of the prequel novella and the first two novels, and a full review of novel 3.  

               NOVEL 4:  Dead Heat               
     It's been a long wait between books in this series, but thankfully, this one can be read as a stand-alone. Charles and Anna Cornick have now been married a little over three years, and it's Anna's 26th birthday. Charles decides that he will take Anna on a vacation to his old friend's horse ranch in Arizona to pick out a gift horse. Joseph Sani is a human in his eighties who is dying from lung cancer, but he has kept his illness a secret from Charles. Joseph and Charles spent a lot of time together when Joseph was in his teens and twenties when they were both itinerant range riders in the Southwest. Joseph's father, Hosteen, a full-blooded Navajo and Alpha of the Salt River Pack, wants Charles to save Joseph's life by turning him into a werewolf, but Joseph doesn't want the bite, and Charles refuses to force him into the change. Hosteen is furious that Charles won't act, and he extends his hostility to Anna, who is meeting his family for the first time. To make things worse, Joseph's wife, Maggie, still holds a torch for Charles. She loved him back in the day, but rejected him as soon as she found out about his wolfy nature. The complications of this familial relationship play out in story threads woven through the primary story line.

     Just to be clear: As the story begins, all of the Sani family except Hosteen are humans: Joseph and Maggie Sani (both in their eighties), their son Kage and his wife Chelsea (both in their forties), and Kage and Chelsea's three young children. Joseph's father, Hosteen Sani, became a werewolf 100 years ago when he was in his twenties. The story can get confusing because Joseph is elderly and frail, while his father Hosteen is young-looking and healthy. I had to keep reminding myself how the men were related and who was really the oldest. Their father-son relationship reminds me of the TV show, Forever, in which 41-year-old Ioan Gruffudd plays the father of 80-year-old Judd Hirsch

     The plot that ties everything together revolves around a powerful child-abusing fae known as the doll collector. He is introduced in the Prologue as a long-time prisoner of the Gray Lords of the Fae. A mysterious Fae female gives him back his magic and sets him free so that he can enter the human world and do some major damage. Note: Briggs provides an early clue to the human identity of the villain, but you have to think carefully to recognize it.

     The event that sets off the action takes place just as Charles and Anna arrive at the Sani's ranch. Kage gets some frantic voice mails from Chelsea begging him to come home immediately to save their children. An unidentified fae has spelled Chelsea, placing a geas on her that forces her to stab her children and then kill herself. Luckily, Chelsea has some witch blood that gives her the strength to stab herself instead of her three children. Unfortunately, help arrives too late, but just before she bleeds out, Charles changes her into a werewolf (with her husband's consent but over her father-in-law's protests). As Anna and Charles begin to investigate the fae magic that drove Chelsea to stab herself, they find that the Combined Nonhuman and Transhuman Relations Provisors (CANTRP, aka Cantrip) and the FBI are investigating other fae crimes that may be related. The couple teams up with two Cantrip agents and Leslie Fisher, the FBI agent they met during the debacle in Washington, D.C., in which a fae publicly beheaded the son of a U.S. senator.

     A final sub-plot that simmers in the background involves Charles and Anna's evolving relationship as they ponder the possibility of parenthood. Anna desperately wants a child, but Charles fears that he has too many enemies who would keep his child in danger. Plus, he is afraid that, like his own mother, Anna will die during childbirth.

     The themes of the novel deal with the eternal human struggle between right and wrong, darkness and light, evil and good. For example, Hosteen is torn between his belief that all witches are evil and the fact that Chelsea is a witch, but not evil. Anna struggles with "her own darkness that she tried to keep out of sight," fearing that if Charles ever sees it he will stop loving her. Meanwhile, Charles believes that his actions as the Marrok's hatchet man have made him such a monster that he can't understand how Anna can possibly love him.

     My major quibble with this novel is the heavy load of horse-breeding information that periodically slows the pace from a canter to a walk. Some of the details were extremely technical and might have been interesting in some other context, but they had nothing to do with the plot. Although I appreciate the author's research efforts, I found myself quickly skimming past those paragraphs.

     As always, Briggs has written a compelling story involving well-drawn characters and fast-paced action. Although it isn't the strongest novel in the series, it's still a great read that kept me engrossed from beginning to end. I would enjoy the series more if there was more drama in the Anna-Charles relationship, which seems too good to be true—always lovey-dovey, with never a disagreement. I realize that these are fictional characters, but I keep hoping that their relationship will become more natural…more real. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Dead Heat

     The all-inclusive series title is WORLD OF THE MARROK (the Marrok being the head of the werewolf clan that is the focus of the series), but there are two subseries, each focusing on a different part of the clan: the Seattle werewolves (MERCY THOMPSON SERIES) and the Montana werewolves (ALPHA AND OMEGA SERIES). Several characters overlap the two series, particularly Bran Cornick, the Marrok, his sons Charles and Samuel, and Adam Hauptman, the Seattle pack leader who is Mercy Thompson's husband. Click HERE to read my discussion and reviews of the MERCY THOMPSON SERIES.

     Readers should begin with "Alpha & Omega," where Briggs introduces Anna and Charles in a soul-mate romance story. (Click HERE to read my review of that anthology.) In this short story prequel, Charles, the executioner for his father's pack, rescues Anna and becomes her mate. Cry Wolf and Hunting Ground continue the couple's story in a manner that is more urban fantasy than paranormal romance. Click HERE to read an excerpt from "Alpha & Omega."

     Anna is an Omega werewolf who was abused for years by a dysfunctional pack. According to this mythology, Omega wolves are rare and highly valued because they have a soothing, calming influence on other werewolves, and on fae and even humans as well. Charles is the son of Bran, the Marrok of all the werewolf packs, and he is the only born (not made) werewolf, which gives him more strength, better senses, and faster shifting abilities than other werewolves. For hundreds of years, Charles has served as his father's enforcer/executioner.

               NOVELS 1 and 2               
     Cry Wolf begins immediately after the prequel with the couple's move to Charles's Montana home, where the two become embroiled in a battle with a powerful witch. Hunting Ground takes place just weeks later, when the couple heads to Seattle for a meeting with the leaders of the European werewolves and where attempts are made to kidnap Anna

     In both of these books, Anna is trying to overcome her fearful, cautious outlook on life, and Charles is trying to help her become stronger. Their relationship can be somewhat rocky at times, but they are, after all, soul mates, so true love wins out in the end, every time. 

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from Cry Wolf. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Hunting Ground.

               NOVEL 3:  Fair Game               
    It's been three years since book 2 was published, and if you have been following the MERCY THOMPSON series, you know that the werewolves and fae of this alternate world have recently come out of the closet. Now, Bran and his alphas are dealing with the concerns and outright fears of the human population so all werewolves must be on their best behavior at all times. Bran has been forced to send Charles out to execute many werewolves around the country who have broken werewolf and human law by killing or injuring humans. Law-breaking wolves get no second chances any more because the werewolves' peaceful coexisitence with the humans is so tenuous.

     The guilt that Charles feels about this constant killing is wearing him down. The ghosts of those he has executed look back at him from every mirrored surface, sucking away his energy and chastising him for their deaths. Charles isn't sharing this burden with anyone—not even his father and certainly not Anna. He has even closed his mate bond with Anna because he fears that the ghosts will use it as a bridge to try to destroy her as they are destroying him. Not surprisingly, Anna is extremely worried about Charles. She has been trying to get Bran to ease up on Charles's assignments, but to no avail. Eventually, two other werewolves support Anna and voice their concerns to Bran, and he finally agrees to find a non-lethal assignment for Charles.

     Bran decides to send Anna and Charles to Boston, where law enforcement officials have requested assistance in tracking down a serial killer who has tortured and murdered several supernaturals—werewolves and fae. When Anna and Charles arrive, they must work with a motley crew of humans from three federal agencies: the FBI, Homeland Security, and a new department—the Combined Nonhuman and Transhuman Relations Provisors (CANTRP, aka Cantrip, aka Trippers). Some of the humans are willing and unafraid to work with the werewolves, but others are fearful and antagonistic. Soon after Anna and Charles reach Boston and have their first meeting with the human team, a young half-fae woman is kidnapped, and her father, a powerful pure-blood fae, joins the team to assist in finding her. The story follows the investigation of the previous murders and the search for the girl.

     Meanwhile, Charles is still seeing his ghosts and holding them back from Anna to the point that he seriously damages their mate bond, which becomes crucial late in the story. Anna really comes into her own in this book. Early in the series, she was damaged so badly by the abuse she suffered that she tended to be cautious to the point of weakness. But Charles vowed that she would never be helpless again, so he has worked with her, helping her to become physically stronger and defensively smarter. All that work pays off in this story.

     We learn a great deal of information about the fae in this book—about their reproductive history with human women and about their powers and their various forms. At the end of the book, the fae take drastic action in the face of what they see as a human affront to justice. That action will directly affect all other supernaturals and will certainly have an effect on the next books in this series and in the MERCY THOMPSON series.

     It's great to have this series back after such a long break. I've always liked Anna and Charles, and their characters have developed nicely over the years. The plot of this book pulled me right in and, although I guessed the identity of one of the villains early on, that didn't spoil it for me. Both of the plot lines (the serial killer and Charles's ghosts) are driven by compelling action and honest emotion. 

     Click HERE to go to a pertinent map of Boston on the author's web site. Click HERE to read the Prologue and chapter 1 from Fair Game.

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